Monastic Tips for Self-Isolation

Balance

“Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.” (Isaiah 26:20 ESV)

The entire world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is commonly said that one of the Chinese words for crisis can be interpreted as opportunity. With the limiting of so many being able to go out, we invite you to discover the opportunity to go in. To go in to the place of the heart. Over the coming days, we will be posting wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church regarding the values to be found from times of silence, solitude, and reflection.

I’m often asked, ‘what is the meaning of “skete” (as in the name of our monastic community)?’ In monastic life there are basically three modes: a hermit (a monk alone praying and working out his/her salvation, e.g. St. Antony); a larger community (cenobia, e.g. St. Pachomius, St. Benedict, St. Basil); and the third, the middle way, a skete (a group of monastics living more like a family under the guidance of an abbot or abbess, e.g. St. Macarius of Egypt). When I visited Egypt in 1997 and went to Deir Anba Bishoy (the monastery of St. Paisius the Great), one of the fathers told me that in Coptic (the ancient Egyptian liturgical language) “skete” is “shiheet”. He said it means “balance”. When someone first comes to the desert, their heart is weighed in the balance and found wanting (cf. Daniel 5:27). But as they continue in the desert, they find their heart comes into a place of balance. This reminds us of the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire inner peace and thousands will be transformed (or saved).”

So, let’s take advantage of these days. Let us see this time as an opportunity to return to balance within. To rediscover the deepest parts of our lives.

Hieromonk Alexii

Abbot of Holy Archangel Michael and All Angels Skete

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